A swashbuckler set in the West Indies of the early 19th Century, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA is a love story, a coming-of-age adventure and an eccentric comedy of manners about a woman who runs with the pirates to free herself from the conventional "rules" of gender, race and class.

Tory Lightfoot, an orphan of mixed white and Mohawk blood, flees the stifling gentility of 1823 Boston for the freedom of the open sea. But the merchant ship on which she stows away is boarded by pirates off the coast of Cuba, and Tory is forced to join the pirate crew to save her life. Making herself useful as both log-keeper and spy, she begins to earn a measure of the independence she craves. But fate, fever and the relentless U. S. Navy West Indian Squadron close in, and Tory must risk her hard-won freedom to save the man she loves.
"I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction."
— The Historical Novel Society Review
"The Witch From The Sea is that rare creation, an historical romance with guts as well as glamour. Wild-spirited Tory is an irresistible character."
— Nautical historian Joan Druett (She-Captains; Hen Frigates)
"I am in love with this book. A+."
Reading Rocks / YA Fiction Review

About Tory

Pirate stories have always been my favorite guilty pleasure. But I could never see myself as the typical heroine of traditional pirate stories, some disapproving high-born lady flouncing around in her petticoats while the guys go off and have all the fun. I thought it would be so much more interesting if a woman was a working member of the crew, who joins up for the same reasons as a man—for the freedom and independence she can't get from her restricted female life ashore.

I also wanted to write a coming-of-age story in the tradition of the 19th Century novelists I love—Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes. But I had to come up with a heroine who would be alienated enough from "normal" society and spirited enough and desperate enough to turn to the pirate life — and strong enough to survive.

That heroine is Victoria MacKenzie, who evolves into Tory Lightfoot — The Witch From The Sea. She's half-white, half-Mohawk Indian, but an outsider in both cultures. In 1823, when she loses her family, and a distant aunt sends her to an oppressive girls' boarding school in Boston, she decides to run away to sea. All Tory wants is her freedom, and when the merchant ship she stows away on is captured by pirates off the coast of Cuba, she makes another desperate decision to join the pirates and save her life.

There is plenty of historical evidence on women in the 18th and 19th centuries who dressed as men and became soldiers or went to sea, to join a husband or lover who was going to war, or simply to escape their own constricted female lives.

Tory has to cope with timeless issues that women always face— finding her own identity, making her place in the world and navigating her way through the often treacherous world of men. It's just that her universal journey takes place in a very specific setting—in a community of pirates.

The 1820s were a fascinating period in the West Indies. The War of 1812 was over and the fledgling US Navy was looking for something to do. The Spanish-speaking islands were in revolt against colonial Spain and the waters were full of ships and sailors trying to make their fortunes—transporting sugar, or slaves, or privateering against Spain. With seamen and fortune hunters from all nations involved in all this ferment, there was a great upsurge in piracy in the shipping lanes around Cuba.

Aboard the pirate schooner Blessed Providence, captained by Scotsman Ed Hart and his ferocious Cuban mate, Nada, Tory is dazzled by the handsome, fair-haired Yankee pirate, Matty—whom she believes on first sight is her destiny. But she's mentored by the English pirate Jack—acrobat, failed actor, and wry observer on the human condition—who reluctantly teaches her the trade.

I think of this book as both a swashbuckler and a kind of comedy of manners about a woman who runs with the pirates to liberate herself from the conventional "rules" of gender, race and class. The pirates are a metaphor for the freedom that Tory craves — and an excuse for her to go off and have rollicking adventures. But it also evolves into a love story in which Tory finally must risk her hard-won freedom to save the man she loves.

Young writers are always advised to write what they know, but I think it's a lot more fun to write what I make up. I hope you think so too!

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